Trump Could Lose Evangelical Support Over Turkey-Kurds Issue
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
President Trump gave a speech last night at the Values Voter Summit, where he made a big reference to his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria. His audience was largely made up of evangelical voters, who have been his staunch backers. But a new Fox News poll shows that their support is eroding over two issues - the impeachment inquiry and his decision to withdraw those troops from northern Syria. They're upset that the decision has left the Kurds, some of whom are Christian, vulnerable to Turkish assaults.
Here's evangelical leader Pat Robertson at his "700 Club" show on the Christian Broadcasting Network last week.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE 700 CLUB")
PAT ROBERTSON: The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Brody is chief political analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Mr. Brody, thanks for joining us.
DAVID BRODY: Thanks, Lulu. Thanks for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why are the Kurds important to evangelicals?
BRODY: Well, religious persecution has been, first of all, something very important to this Trump administration and obviously very important to evangelical organizations throughout the years - Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins at Family Research Council. You put all of it together, and that is why there's so much pushback - because this is really the antithesis of everything the Trump administration has been promoting for the last few years.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the fact that the Kurds have been good allies to the United States in many of the conflicts in the Middle East. What have you heard from the evangelicals close to the White House?
BRODY: There's a lot of - I think the best word to describe it is sadness. Maybe there's a word of disappointment, as well, because they talk about fighting for religious persecution. And then all of a sudden, we see this move, and it just doesn't jive with everything that they've seen so far. And it's led to some soul-searching and some scratching of the heads within the evangelical community. There's a difference between a sphere of evangelical leaders and their organizations - the Tony Perkins, the Franklin Grahams of the world - and the evangelical base, the folks that voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about that. I mean, do you think the Fox News poll is accurate? Are evangelicals rethinking their support for the president?
BRODY: Well, if you're referring to the impeachment poll where it said 51% percent of all folks, obviously - but within the evangelical community, I think it said it was a five-point increase in white evangelical support of impeachment.
BRODY: And I think that has to be very concerning for the president. I don't think there's any question about it. But at the same time, we're in the narrative stage - you know, which side - the Republicans and Trump or the Democrats and some would say the mainstream media are trying to craft a narrative here. And so far, Democrats are winning the narrative battle, and I think the polls indicate that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about the Kurdish part of this. You told The Washington Post that you believe this is a mini-crisis and that it won't have a lasting effect on how evangelicals see the president. And you've talked about this distinction between the leadership and the base. Explain that a little bit.
BRODY: Yeah, you bet. I mean, it is a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that Donald Trump has done so much for evangelicals. We've heard all about it from him, obviously...
BRODY: ...But also from evangelicals who have said this is a home run of a presidency. I don't want to say...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A home run because they put people on the...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Supreme Court - judges.
BRODY: Pro-life president - quite frankly puts Ronald Reagan to shame on the pro-life issue. I mean, he's the most pro-life president ever. I go down the list, but point is that he has been 100% close to perfection for evangelicals.
Then this comes along. And that's why I called it a mini-crisis - not a crisis, but something that bears watching as to how much of a slip we may see in terms of evangelical support because I think within the base, they're saying, look; we're with you, with an asterisk. And that asterisk is, let's see how this plays out as we move forward - if we're talking about genocide, if we're talking about a slaughter, if we're talking about a lot of PR visual disaster pictures coming out of...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which we are starting to see...
BRODY: Already starting to see...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Because the Turks have moved into these areas. And we're seeing civilians fleeing. We've heard of casualties. So...
BRODY: All of that - then all of a sudden, I think instead of it being a mini-crisis, you can take the word mini away, and I think crisis becomes all bolded in 18-font.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: For those who are not part of the white evangelical community, the staunch support of President Trump, and specifically the worry over the Kurds, is surprising when you think that almost a hundred percent of the children who were separated from their families and locked up at the border were also Christian. You know, they come from Christian countries in the south - and so why that was not a concern, but Kurds are.
BRODY: I think they're going to look at it - they, the evangelical base - as a law and order issue. In other words, the Christians that you're referring to - child separation, coming across the border from another country - the way they see it - broke the law. Now, we can get into congressional debates about, you know, whose fault is that. The bottom line is if they did break the law, which that's obviously how they feel, then there has to be this balance between law and order - you broke the law - and compassion.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And no Christian charity?
BRODY: And compassion, as well.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: David Brody with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Thank you so much.
BRODY: Any time, Lulu. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.